H1N1 and the Untold Stories

There is a new phenomenon in our world called H1N1.  The news stories are all around the vaccine: availability of the vaccine,  getting vaccinated, vaccination clinics, who has priority in being vaccinated, reactions to the vaccine, H1N1 assessment clinics, how many people have been hospitalized, how many have died, the cost of delivery, the pandemic nature of this flu.

There is an untold and evolving story around H1N1.  It is the story of innovation, breaking down silos, working across departments, flattening of decision making structures, team engagement, people rolling up their sleeves and doing what needs to be done regardless of job description and everyone pulling together to face down the issues created by what is being called a pandemic – at least here in Canada.

Being around a lot of health care folx because of my work and being in frequent conversations about engagement, we began to muse about the level of engagement of health care folx, in particular, in the pandemic planning and the delivery of the vaccine.  We came back to a familiar question: What is it about a crisis that brings out a sense of community, the power and clarity of a common goal, necessary resource allocation and alleviates common arguments, bickering or turf protection around role and resources?

How can we create these conditions in times when there is no crisis is often asked?  We are operating from the premise that it is possible to create the same conditions without a crisis.   During this particular conversation I began to entertain the question, what if it isn’t possible to fully recreate the conditions of crisis?  For instance, the province of Nova Scotia has made available millions of dollars for the roll out of the H1N1 vaccine.  Without the compelling argument of needing to control a pandemic outbreak of illness, as a for instance, what else other than crisis would so easily and readily garner financial and human resources.  One of the reasons there is normally turf protection is because when we don’t have crisis the experience is that we have more limited resources and people have to advocate for their share of budget.

My question changed.  Given that responding to the H1N1 crisis has temporarily transformed the relational field of how people are working together, what would it take to maintain some of the shift that has occurred and embed it in the organizational culture instead of allowing things to drift back – or spring back – to the way things have always been done – which is likely what will happen when the H1N1 pressure is off?  How do we capitalize on the shifted shape of the relational field to allow operation along this chaordic edge or chaordic path all or most of the time?

There is an interesting opportunity here.  As the pressure of crisis eases, will the lessons learned include new new ways of working together and the minimalization of structures and processes to support that?